Musical Quote of the Week
Presented by David Barker
The Genius of Mozart is mourning and weeping over the death of her
pupil. She has found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible
Haydn; through him she wishes to form a union with another. With the
help of assiduous labor you shall receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's
Ferdinand von Waldstein in a letter to Beethoven (1792)
This is a legitimate and valid way of looking at
things, I suppose. But it is certainly painful to listen to.
Sibelius's response to hearing Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, 1914.
What the world needs is more geniuses with humility,
there are so few of us left.
Another witticism from Oskar Levant.
Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing
cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold
Jean Sibelius, 1923, after writing his Sixth Symphony.
The difference between a violin and a viola is
that a viola burns longer.
It is an imaginary instrument that might be said
to possess the wings of the harp, the heart of the grand piano and the
soul of the guitar.
Joaquin Rodrigo, referring to the rhythm underlying Spanish music.
Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity
is making the complicated simple.
Attributed to Charles Mingus, jazz musician.
Between the two men, somewhere, a truth is lying,
and that is what I try to find.
Sir Georg Solti, referring to Toscanini and Furtwängler.
I feel I shall live a long time.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky to his brother, after composing the
Pathetique Symphony (see last week's quote for contrast).
What I need is to believe in myself again - for
my faith has been greatly undermined; it seems to me my role is over.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky in a letter to his nephew, just prior to composing
the Pathetique Symphony, and eight months before his death.
The colour of my soul is iron-grey and sad bats
wheel about the steeple of my dreams.
Claude Debussy in a 1894 letter to Ernest Chausson
Thank God, I'll never have to play the cello again.
Pablo Casals, aged 24, after hurting his hand in a hiking accident.
Simplicity is the final achievement. After one
has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity
that emerges as the crowning reward of art.
I'm a general. My soldiers are the keys, and I
have to command them.
Attributed to Vladimir Horowitz.
You can't possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven's
Seventh and go slow.
Oscar Levant, American pianist and comedian, explaining his way out
of a speeding ticket.
Always ask for advice but never take it.
We cannot despair about mankind knowing that Mozart
was a man.
The important thing is never to let oneself be
guided by the opinion of one's contemporaries; to continue steadfastly
on one's way without letting oneself be either defeated by failure or
diverted by applause.
For sheer strength of character, I wouldn't have
dared to cross swords with Callas. I would rather have gone six rounds
with Jack Dempsey.
John Huston, when asked if he had ever met any woman who was his equal.
I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid
and serious an artist, that I must take seriously anything he conceives
in good faith, and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel
you should hear it, too.
Leonard Bernstein, introducing Glenn Gould and the infamous Brahms Concerto
No. 1 from Carnegie Hall in 1962
If that's what your jokes sound like, I'm afraid
to hear what your serious pieces sound like.
Robert Schumann in a letter to Chopin after hearing his Scherzo No.
Wait until the evening before opening night. Nothing
primes inspiration more than necessity.
Gioachino Rossini's advice about writing overtures.
The mere mention of Christmas inspired him [Vaughan
Williams]. He had a passion for carols.
Simona Pakenham, collaborator with VW for The First Nowell.
The trouble with music appreciation in general
is that people are taught to have too much respect for music; they should
be taught to love it instead.
I never look at the trombones - it only encourages
A waltz and a glass of wine invite an encore.
Johann Strauss I
A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians
paint their pictures on silence. We provide the music, and you provide
Leopold Stokowski to a "difficult" audience.
What a lovely voice, but who cares?
Maria Callas, referring to Renata Tebaldi.
I was for some time quite beside myself and could not believe that
Providence could have required the presence of this indispensable man
in the other world so soon.
Joseph Haydn, referring to the death of Mozart.
It is so difficult to mix with artists! You must choose business
men to talk to, because artists only talk of money.
He was a mad conductor: he looks like he’ll take off and
fly at any moment, and his facial expressions are a treat.
Maggie Cotton, former principal percussionist for the CBSO, commenting
on Malcolm Arnold's conducting style (at the Hoffnung Musical Festival)
Music is the social act of communication among people, a gesture of
friendship, the strongest there is.
Sir Malcolm Arnold
The music of Bach is without doubt the most sacred gift to the
world of art.
I found it as alluring as a wayward woman and determined to tame
Sir Thomas Beecham on the music of Delius.
My dear hands. Farewell, my poor hands.
Sergei Rachmaninov, 1943, in his last illness having been told he would
never play again.
The violin can sing a melody better than the piano, and melody
is the soul of music.
Max Bruch, when asked why he, as a pianist, preferred to write music
for the violin.
Thus having been undeservedly accepted at the Conservatory as a
professor, I soon became one of its best and possibly its very best
pupil, judging by the quantity and value of the information it gave
In poetry there are two giants, rough Homer and fine Shakespeare.
In music likewise we have two giants, Beethoven, the thinker, and the
Modest Mussorgsky, 1872 letter to Vladimir Stassov.
Truly, in Schubert there dwells a divine spark!
Beethoven, speaking to Anton Schindler.
Can you appreciate music without playing it? Yes, you can. You
can appreciate baseball without playing it. Many people attend a football
game merely for the crowd, the excitement, the color.
Attributed to Jascha Heifetz.
What gives Bach and Mozart a place apart is that these two great
expressive composers never sacrificed form to expression.
Camille Saint-Saëns, 1907.
Händel is the greatest and ablest of all composers; from
him I can still learn.
Beethoven on his deathbed, speaking to Gerhard von Breuning
I deny that either singers or conductors can create or work creatively
– this, as I have always said, is a conception that leads to the
Giuseppe Verdi, 1871.
Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast
quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the
crowning reward of art.
In Paris, you learn wit, in London you learn to crush your social
rivals, and in Florence you learn poise.
Attributed to Virgil Thomson, American composer and critic.
What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song
of which death sounds the first solemn note?
Franz Liszt, preface to Les Préludes
The hero in carpet slippers.
Edward Sackville-West, commenting on Richard Strauss' Symphonia
The audience is requested not to refrain from talking during the
overture. Otherwise they will know all the tunes before the opera begins.
Ralph Vaughan Williams - note in the score to The Poisoned Kiss
Elgar is not manic enough to be Russian, not witty or pointilliste
enough to be French, not harmonically simple enough to be Italian and
not stodgy enough to be German. We arrive at his Englishry by pure elimination.
Anthony Burgess, The Observer, 1983.
My music is best understood by children and animals.
Igor Stravinsky, The Observer, 1961
A great piece of music is beautiful, regardless of how it is performed.
Dmitri Shostakovich in a letter to Isaac Glikman, 1955.
To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not
quite enough time.
Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.
As you’ll never hear the thing again, my boy, why not throw
in a couple of brass bands?
Sir Thomas Beecham providing some advice to William Walton on the composition
of Belshazzar's Feast for the 1931 Leeds Festival, advice which
he dutifully accepted.
As I left the State Opera last night I had a sensation not of coming
out of a public institution, but out of an insane asylum.
1925 review of a performance of Berg's Wozzeck.
I always try to make myself as widely understood as possible, and
if I don't succeed I consider it's my own fault.
Dmitri Shostakovich, New York Times, 1942.
The Americans expect great things of me ... If the small Czech
nation can have such musicians, they say, why could not they, too, when
their country and people is so immense.
Antonin Dvorák, in a letter to Josef Hlávka, 1892.
Händel is the greatest and ablest of all composers; from
him I can still learn.
Beethoven on his deathbed, speaking to Gerhard von Breuning.
Talent works, genius creates.
He was the adoration of many, and re-exists now in the sublime
Olivia Dussek Buckley (daughter of Jan Dussek), in her 1843 book Musical
Truths, referring to Beethoven (and Spohr).
What's best in music is not to be found in the notes.
For me, the most important thing is the element of chance that
is built into a live performance. The very great drawback of recorded
sound is the fact that it is always the same.
One of the advantages of being over forty is that one begins to
learn the difference between knowing and realising.
Gustav Holst, 1914, letter to WG Whittaker
He is the father, we are the children.
Wolfgang Mozart, speaking about CPE Bach.
My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us,
the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.
Edward Elgar, 1896.
If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days,
the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.
Ignacy Paderewski, Polish pianist and politician.
With the help of assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart's spirit
from Haydn's hands.
Ferdinand von Waldstein in a latter to Beethoven, 1792.
There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual
pianists, and bad pianists.
Vladimir Horowitz (in less politically correct days)
No, but I once trod in some.
Sir Thomas Beecham, when asked whether he had conducted any Stockhausen.
It may well be that some composers do not believe in God. All of them, however, believe in Bach.
I want to seize fate by the throat.
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1801 letter to FG Wegeler
She was a town-and-country soprano of the kind often used for
augmenting grief at a funeral.
George Ade, American dramatist and wit.
I lived in Italy for three years and wanted no part of the country's
disreputable way of life.
can chase a Beethoven symphony all your life and never catch up.
Mahler burst over the Vienna Opera like an elemental
Franz Schmidt, composer and cellist in the Vienna Opera Orchestra.
A Haydn symphony had a meaning for the social
group that listened to it. A Mahler symphony had a meaning for the man
who composed it. Here is the difference between the classical and romantic
attitudes to art.
Anthony Burgess, English novelist and composer, from This Man and
Berlioz says nothing in his music, but he says
James Huneker, American music critic of the early 20th century.
It is music in which all the notes must be heard.
Camille Saint-Saëns - as reported by Faure - talking about the
works of Mozart.
I have written out my soul in the concerto ...
Elgar, about his violin concerto, in a letter to his friend Alice Stuart-Worsley,
If a composer could state in words what being a
composer means, he would no longer need to be a composer.
Ned Rorem, American composer.
A film musician is like a mortician. He can't bring
the body to life, but he can make it look better.
Adolf Deutsch, English-American composer (1897-1980).
When a piece gets difficult, make faces.
Arthur Schnabel's advice to Vladimir Horowitz.
I occasionally play works by contemporary composers for two reasons.
Firstly to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly
to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven.
Music is now so foolish that I am amazed. Everything
that is wrong is permitted, and no attention is paid to what the old
Samuel Scheidt, German composer (1587-1654).
good composer is slowly discovered, the bad composer is slowly found
Ernest Newman, music critic.
One can't judge Wagner's Lohengrin after a first hearing,
and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time.
You are trying to do a more difficult thing than
record folk songs;
you are trying to record life.
HG Wells on a folk song hunt with Percy Grainger, 1908.
He has made a fine entertainment of it, tho' not
near so good as he might and ought to have done. I have with great difficulty
made him correct some of the grossest faults.
The Reverend Charles Jennens, talking about Handel's music for
Messiah, for which Jennens was librettist, 1754.
Can't you read? The score demands con amore
and what are you doing? You are playing it like married men!
Arturo Toscanini to an unfortunate orchestra during rehearsal.
I love it when an aria fits
a singer as perfectly as a suit of well-tailored clothes.
Mozart in a letter to his father, 1778.
I don't know what will become of this piece. Our
brave critics will no doubt charge me with imitating Ravel's Bolero.
Too bad - this is how I hear war.
Dmitri Shostakovich, referring to his Seventh Symphony, 1941.
The worth of my music will never be guessed or
its value to mankind felt until the approach to it is consciously undertaken
as a pilgrimage to sorrows.
In my own case I have never had an original thought
in my head in the matter of musical composition, while I have flattered
myself that I am a likely lad when it comes to picking other men's brains.
Concerning my own transcriptions, there were those which were fashioned
out of envy, so to speak.
Music is enough for a lifetime - but a lifetime
is not enough for music.
The chief objection to wind instruments is that
it extends the life of the player.
Who else but George Bernard Shaw.
You sang like a composer.
Jules Massenet, to a tenor he obviously didn't think much of.
I should be sorry, my Lord, if I had only succeeded
in entertaining them; I wished to make them better.
Handel, to Lord Kinnoull, after the London premiere of Messiah,
It cannot remain unmentioned that so many poorly
equipped boys, and boys who have no talent at all for music, have been
accepted into the school to date that the quality of music has necessarily
declined and deteriorated. And those who do bring a few precepts with
them when they come to school are not ready to be used immediately.
Bach, from a memorandum to the Leipzig Town Council, 1730 (another case
of "the more things change, the more they stay the same"!)
You have really done it this time ... I wonder
if you realised how futile and tawdry Ravel sounded after your Epliogue
Holst in a letter to Vaughan Williams after the first performance of
the London Symphony, 1914.
True perfection in all things is no longer known
or prized - you must write music that is either so simple a coachman
could sing it, or so unintelligble that audiences like it simply because
no sane person could understand it.
Mozart in a letter to his father, 1782, talking about his piano concertos
K413-415 (the more things change, the more they stay the same?).
Never mind, put any book on the piano, and someone
can turn from time to time, so I need not look as though I played by
Felix Mendelssohn on hearing that the piano part for his piano trio
had not arrived for a performance in London (1844) as related by Joseph
Joachim, who was the violinist.
How do you keep ninety people together with one
stick? I've got two sticks and I can't keep five people together.
Ian Paice, the drummer of the rock group Deep Purple, in conversation
with a conductor (unnamed) during rehearsals for a performance of Jon
Lord's Concerto for Group and Orchestra.
Brahms stayed an extra day to hear my [Fifth] Symphony
and was very kind ... I like his honesty and open-mindedness. Neither
he nor the players liked the finale, which I also think rather horrible.
Tchaikovsky in a letter to his brother, describing what is now one of
the favourite pieces of the standard repertoire, Hamburg 1889.
Before he got far, I was convinced he was raving
Pierre Monteux, speaking about Stravinsky at a piano performance by
the composer of The Rite of Spring for the conductor and Diaghilev
before its Paris premiere, 1912.
Last year I gave several lectures on "Intelligence
and Musicality among Animals" ... Today I am going to speak to
you about "Intelligence and Musicality among Critics" ...
The subject is much the same, with some modifications, of course.
Erik Satie, 1918, in ascerbic mood.
Some say, compar'd to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!
English poet John Byrom, describing the "contest"
between Handel and his operatic rival Bononcini, 1723.
What terrible harm Wagner did by interspersing
his pages of genius with harmonic and modulatory outrages to which both
young and old are gradually becoming accustomed and which have procreated
d'Indy and Richard Strauss.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1901.
I too had to work hard, so as not to have to work
hard any longer.
Mozart in reply to the Dutch keyboardist Georg Friedrich Richter, who
had said after watching Mozart play the keyboard "How hard I work
and sweat, and to you, my friend, it is all child's play". Vienna
Magnificent ... you can't even hear the original quartet,
so beautiful is the arrangement.
Otto Klemperer, speaking about Schoenberg's orchestration of the
Brahms piano quartet, of which he was the conductor of the first performance
That which cannot be said these days will be sung.
From the Wiener Realzeitung review of the premiere of Mozart's
Marriage of Figaro in Vienna, referring of course to the ban
on the performance of the play (Vienna, 1786).
I am coarse, and you are simple.
Berlioz in a letter to Mendelssohn, accompanying the gift of Berlioz's
baton, described as a cudgel (Leipzig 1843).